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Sheriff denies wrongdoing, feels 'betrayed'

The News-Messenger,
BYLINE: Craig Shoup, Reporter, cshoup@gannett,com

Sandusky County, OH

2016-01-19_Sheriff denies wrongdoing_01Sandusky County Sheriff Kyle Overmyer and his sister Tracy Overmyer, Sandusky County Clerk of Courts. Photo: Molly Corfman/The News-Messenger

FREMONT - Sandusky County Sheriff Kyle Overmyer on Tuesday denied any wrongdoing in collecting prescription pills from police take-back programs, and said he was "shocked" to be accused of intimidating a witness.

Overmyer, who is under investigation by the Ohio Attorney General's Office, showed the News-Messenger a receipt from the Toledo Drug Enforcement Agency dated Sept. 28 stating that DEA agents took 350 pounds of miscellaneous pills in 11 boxes from the sheriff's office to be incinerated in Toledo.

The receipt lists the amount of drugs collected by the DEA, but it does not address the total amount of prescription medicines turned in to the sheriff's office by civilians or the timeline of when the pills were collected.

Overmyer said he personally collected pills from the Fremont, Bellevue, Green Springs and Woodville police departments between April and July as a good will mission, and that he never said he was doing it on behalf of the DEA.

He described himself as a "hands-on, 41-year-old sheriff" who stays active, and said he used the drug-collection efforts to meet and talk with local police officers.

"I've done nothing wrong," Overmyer asserted Tuesday. "I went around and collected the pills as a way to build relationships with departments."

The sheriff, who is running for re-election and faces Clyde police Chief Bruce Gower in a March primary, said he believes the allegations against him are politically motivated.

At an August meeting, the Sandusky County police chiefs association said it was "very suspicious" that Overmyer had collected the pills and requested an investigation by the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation and Identification.

Overmyer said he submitted to and passed a drug test by BCI, and would agree to take one any time. He added that he doesn't drink alcohol.

Last week, Gibsonburg police Chief Paul Whitaker, the police chiefs association's president, filed a complaint with BCI alleging that Overmyer tried to intimidate a witness in the investigation, citing a conversation at a county Republican event Thursday night.

Overmyer, his sister Tracy, Sandusky County's clerk of courts, and newly elected Gibsonburg Mayor Steve Fought met in a hallway during a Republican women's meeting Thursday and Whitaker said he felt statements made by the Overmyers to Fought were threatening.

"I made the complaint to the investigators," Whitaker stated Tuesday.

Both Tracy and Kyle Overmyer told The News-Messenger that the conversation between them and Fought was "very cordial" and mostly involved discussion of families and work. The Overmyers said the conversation never got heated and that no harsh words were exchanged.

The sheriff said Fought called him Friday morning and asked to continue their conversation.

"He called the next day and wanted to follow up on our conversation," Overmyer said.

Tracy Overmyer said she and Fought spoke for about five minutes and Kyle Overmyer said he joined them for about "two to three minutes."

Tracy Overmyer said she asked Fought who the Gibsonburg police chief's boss is, and complained that Whitaker had spoken to the media about BCI's ongoing investigation of the sheriff.

Kyle Overmyer said he told Fought that he wanted to work with the village, saying he tries to help as much as possible by providing police dispatch service for free.

Dan Tierney, a spokesperson for the Ohio Attorney General's Office, said Tuesday that the ongong investigation of Kyle Overmyer includes the complaint by Whitaker alleging that Overmyer threatened a witness.

Kyle Overmyer said he feels "betrayed" because he was doing everything he could to open communication among county law enforcement officials. He also said he wanted to get involved with the county police chiefs association, but has never been invited to their meetings.

The sheriff said he feared the BCI investigation may hurt the county's fledgling drug task force, which was founded last year.

"I just don't want this (drug investigation) to hinder the drug task force. My goal is to keep the drug task force going. We need to do this," Overmyer said.

The sheriff said the drug take-back investigation has had a positive impact, however, giving both local law enforcement and the DEA a chance to review policies that had not been spelled out before.

The Sandusky County Sheriff's Office on Aug. 20 enacted a protocol for collecting the prescription drugs.

"We've learned something because of this," Kyle Overmyer said. "I think it's a lot better now that there's a policy in place. This is a good starting point for the DEA to have a blanket policy for everyone that could prevent hiccups in the future."

Overmyer signed the new policy Aug. 21, and said all drug take-back efforts have since been carefully monitored.

"The sheriff will appoint someone from within the sheriff's office as the designee being responsible for removal of those medications. The designee will be responsible for retaining the only key to the drug take-back box," the policy said.

The policy also states that removal of all medications will be witnessed, and the drugs will be placed in a sealed container with evidence tape and placed into evidence storage until permanent disposal.

The Detroit DEA office, which oversees the agency's operations in Ohio, Michigan and Kentucky, said there were no official guidelines in place for how to handle collection of prescription pills in the take-back programs.

Ashley Johnson, a data analyst who coordinated the take-back collection, said it "seemed a little fishy" that Overmyer would have collected pills on behalf of DEA.

Rich Isaacson, the media and drug prevention coordinator for Detroit DEA, said agents incinerated 420 pounds of various prescription drugs collected from Sandusky County's drug take-back day in September. Isaacson said the drugs are weighed at the collection sites and taken back to Toledo to be incinerated, though the drugs are not weighed before being incinerated.

"It is conducted in a professional manner," Isaacson said.

Once the investigation by BCI is complete, Tierney said, the report will be sent to Sandusky County Prosecutor Tom Stierwalt for review.

"He will have four options," Tierney said. "He can send it back to us to investigate further. He can not file charges. He can file charges against the sheriff, or send the case to a special prosecutor."

Stierwalt would represent Overmyer in legal matters, but despite a potential conflict of interest, Tierney said the attorney general's office is unable to force Stierwalt to seek a special prosecutor if charges are warranted.

"In general it's up to the (prosecutor's office) to determine conflict of interest," Tierney said.

Stierwalt has declined to comment on the investigation, saying that it is still ongoing.

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